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Court of Special Appeals Reverses Circuit Court Decision

Posted in Attorney Blogs,Medical Malpractice,News on March 6, 2013

On Friday, March 1, 2013, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals reversed a decision of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City which granted summary judgment to the defendant on the basis of what they argued was a deficient Certificate of Qualified Expert (“CQE”) filed by our client, the plaintiff.

The ruling, which now allows the case against these defendants to proceed within the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, is a big win for all medical malpractice plaintiffs in Maryland and further clarifies a statute within the act which is hotly contested in these types of cases.

Medical malpractice actions in the state of Maryland are governed by courts and judicial proceedings § 3-2A-01 et. seq., also known as the Health Care Malpractice Claims Act. An important part of this filing process, noted in section § 3-2A-04(b), requires the plaintiff to submit a CQE. The CQE allows another physician to attest that the defendant doctor or health care provider deviated from the applicable standards of care, and that the deviation was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries and damages

Section 3-2A-02(c) establishes the good faith and criteria needed for a physician to be considered a “qualified” expert within the meaning of the statute, in order to offer opinions on the medical treatment given by another doctor. Simply put, a certified expert must be a doctor practicing “in the defendant’s specialty or a related field of health care.” Similarly, if the defendant is a board-certified physician, the CQE doctor must be also be board-certified in the same or a related specialty. (3-2A-02(c)(2)(ii)(1))

Our case involved the failure of a urologist to diagnose our client’s nephritis (a severe kidney disease), which progressed into late-stage kidney disease by the time it was properly diagnosed. We filed a CQE in which our expert witness, a nephrologist, testified that the defendant doctor deviated from the applicable standard of care and caused our client considerable damages.

Incredibly, the defendants took the position that a nephrologist could not comment on the care rendered by a urologist, despite the fact that this was clearly a case of nephritis. Even more incredibly, the Circuit Court for Baltimore City agreed and granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment on that basis.

On Friday, March 1st, the Court of Special Appeals reversed this summary judgment, holding that nephrology and urology are “related” specialties within the meaning of 3-2A-02(c)(2).

This opinion is significant because the sometimes-labyrinthine wording of the Health Care Malpractice Claims Act has provided defense attorneys many hiding places in the past. Clarifying decisions, like the one issued on Friday, advance the practice of law by eliminating such hiding spots going forward. No longer can defendants advance the specious claim that a board-certified nephrologist is incapable of commenting on substandard care rendered by a urologist when dealing with the treatment of kidney diseases. The court also clarified that the circumstances and facts of each case should be analyzed when determining whether the CQE expert is proper under the act.

We are thrilled for our client that the Court of Special Appeals has resurrected his case, and are very eager to proceed with this matter in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. We are also pleased that medical malpractice plaintiffs statewide may now refer to this case for further interpretation of the Health Care Malpractice Claims Act.